Barbara Boxer: Senator, Jewess, Inspiration
Barbara Boxer: Fittingly a great name for a fighter, and an even better name for an extraordinary, accomplished Jewish woman. As one of seven women in the senate when she was elected in 1992, Boxer’s work broke barriers for all women—especially those aspiring to work in politics. She ran a fierce campaign and was a fierce senator, undeterred by the male majorities that surrounded her everywhere. Feeling dissatisfied with the response to Anita Hill’s allegations against Clarence Thomas, she successfully urged an all-white, all-male senate committee to reopen Hill’s case. Her work advocating for women helped reform the American attitude towards sexual harassment in the workplace. In her 24-year tenure, Boxer fought tirelessly for marriage equality, abortion rights, and was a dependable progressive leader when America needed one most.
Boxer’s accomplishments weren’t only legislative; her work has inspired many aspiring female politicians, including myself. For years I’ve dreamt of a career in politics–brushing shoulders with Washington’s elite–and hopefully one day becoming one of them. With a mere 21 women–compared to 79 men–in the senate today, the possibility of success in politics often feels distant. However, trailblazers like Boxer empower me to work harder to shatter that glass ceiling. She helped prove that politics is not just a field for men, and demonstrated how successful female politicians can be.
Women may hold seats in congress now, but that doesn’t mean that they’re always treated equally; however, Boxer’s legacy shows me that being a woman in politics is not all struggle. Until 2012, Boxer held the senatorial record for the highest number of votes ever received by a single candidate. Beloved by her constituents and colleagues, she’s made it clear that not only can a woman be a successful politician, but she can be warmly received by those around her.
There is so much sexism in the media surrounding all women, but I think female politicians especially face unfair scrutiny. In part, I believe they’re targeted because these women are often assertive, powerful, and confident–traits typically discouraged in women. I sometimes feel like I have to be ruthless to be successful, but Boxer’s amiability proves that one can be an accomplished, well-respected female politician without always being on the offensive. It feels silly to write that, because to me it seems so obvious. But the truth is, I often encounter so much bias against women that I doubt my own abilities. Luckily, Boxer is a role model who helps me dispel that ridiculous notion.
Jews, making up a mere 2% of the population, aren’t always visible in politics. Even when they’re elected, I often feel like Jewish politicians downplay their Judaism. It’s difficult, as an observant Jew, to see Jewish leaders set aside their Jewishness. I wonder if I can be observant, or even be proud of my Jewish identity, and still pursue a political career. Barbara Boxer defies this trope by being outspoken about her Jewishness. By never hiding her Judaism, she shows me that my Jewish identity, like my gender, is not a hindrance to my success in politics.
In the current political climate, the future of women in politics sometimes feels bleak, but women like Boxer give me hope. As I mentioned before, there are a mere 21 women in the senate–a discouraging statistic. But slowly that number is rising, and I feel it is in large part due to pioneer politicians like Boxer who help chip away at the glass ceiling bit by bit. Her legacy is not only one of accomplishment, it’s one of inspiration. With only so many female politicians, the actions of the few hold tremendous weight, as they’re seen as representative of all women. This immense generalization is unfortunate, but prevalent, and therefore women who hold public office must go above and beyond to prove that they deserve their seats. I appreciate Boxer’s work not only from a Democratic perspective, but also from my perspective as a young Jewish woman who’s an aspiring politican. I feel more visible and inspired than ever in the political sphere, and I have Barbara Boxer to thank for that.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Small, Shira. "Barbara Boxer: Senator, Jewess, Inspiration." 15 November 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 16, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/barbara-boxer-senator-jewess-inspiration>.